After working to find beds for Ottawa’s homeless population for 10 years, the Odawa Native Friendship Centre will close on March 31. Odawa is the latest friendship centre in Canada to be gouged by funding cuts.
The centre relied heavily on funding from the City of Ottawa, but city council recently voted to cut that funding entirely.
“510 Rideau is vital to the healing of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people who are at-risk or in transition into homes of their own,” said Morgan Hare, Executive Director at Odawa. “The closure of the drop-in centre would bring chaos to the homeless community.”
Located in a small house on Rideau Street, the centre offers a variety of services, including three hot meals a day, laundry and computers. It also offers counselling for addiction and helps those making a transition into the city. Centre officials say they see anywhere from 60 to 100 people come through their building each day. The vast majority are First Nations, Inuit or Métis. Unlike many other friendship centres, there are no overnight services at Odawa.
After an emergency meeting on February 5, the centre’s organizers and clients are hoping to save Odawa on their own terms. An online crowd-funding campaign has raised over $1000, but the road ahead is daunting. Annual funding costs for the centre are roughly $400,000.
Although the centre owns the building at 510 Rideau, they need government funding in order to operate it.
While the City of Ottawa has cut funding to Odawa, overall funding to the homeless community has not been cut. Rather, city officials say that they are aiming to tackle the city’s homelessness by helping those on the street find a permanent home, rather than have to turn to a daytime drop-in centre.
But Odawa organizers aren’t convinced. They maintain that the friendship centre offers a unique service that is vital to the Ottawa’s Indigenous community.
“Many of the clients are survivors of trauma like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, violence and abuse,” said Odawa board president Neal Freeland in a statement. “These most vulnerable members of society need healing and support not more neglect.”